Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre

Production Run: Tue 19 Dec 2017 - Sun 28 Jan 2018

Performance Reviewed: Thur 21 Dec 2017 (Press Night)

Back in 2014, when discussing the subject, panto veteran Julian Clary told me how Cinderella is in many ways the ultimate pantomime. 

“It has everything, really. There’s the lovely romantic story for the younger audiences, the magic of the transformation scene, the ugly sisters, the lavish costumes.”

It’s difficult to argue with his reasoning - if anyone knows panto, it’s Clary. It’s also no doubt a big part of why Qdos chose old Cinders as the tale with which to bring panto back to the London Palladium in 2016, the first of its kind performed at the venue in almost three decades.

Fast forward a year, and the same celebrated London production has found itself a new home at the Birmingham Hippodrome, bringing with it a fantastic new cast but the same exceptional production values, enviable star wattage, and measure for measure quite probably the best pantomime experience on offer this Christmas and New Year, Midlands or beyond.

Chief behind this is the exceptional cast assembled. Given the high calibre of talent that this, the UK’s most-visited theatre and one of the Nation’s biggest pantos, has attracted in the past, it speaks measures that Cinderella is one of the Hippodrome’s glitziest and most impressive lineups yet. Soul singer / musical theatre leading lady / native Midlander Beverley Knight dons the wings, wands and frocks of the Fairy Godmother, putting in an impressive panto debut which thankfully gives her plenty of opportunity to showcase those powerhouse vocals. She’s humble and self-deprecating, too, with an Act II duet that goes calamitously wrong alongside the still-funny Grumbleweeds shining a light on some capable comedic chops.

Ceri Dupree and David Dale steal scenes with camp, glorious relish as ugly stepsisters Voluptua and Verruca, with Dupree’s incredible, original costume designs for the characters as hilarious, flamboyant and outlandish as they are stunning feats of engineering.

Former ‘Hear’Say’ star Suzanne Shaw helps lend Cinderella herself a touch more personality and presence than the role usually offers, whilst Danny Mac continues his ascension as one of the industry’s most winning and versatile leading men, making his Prince Charming a funny, likeable figure, and once again showing off some of his slick moves and delectable vocals that were previously teased in the likes of Strictly Come Dancing and the recent Sunset Boulevard tour.

Unsurprisingly, though, the audiences most rapturous responses (and applause!) were saved for funnyman Matt Slack, returning for what is now his fifth consecutive panto turn at the Hippodrome, no doubt due to popular demand. At this stage it’s almost difficult to find new praise for Slack, so extensive have the complements already offered been for his genius physical comedy, razor-sharp wit, pitch-perfect impersonations and general command of the stage and crowd. A consummate entertainer through-and-through, some of his staples - such as running gags owing to song titles or items of confectionary - return, but one can only sit back in slight awe and amazement that Slack is so able to keep the material fresh, the energy high and his gleefully unpredictable schtick so very genuinely laugh-out-loud funny even five years on. With his return next year for Peter Pan already confirmed, it’s encouraging to see Qdos and the Hippodrome keeping hold of arguably their true panto MVP.

Elsewhere, the set pieces range from delightfully silly to wonderfully lavish - there’s the odd familiar beat here and there, such as a wince-inducing gag with an unreliable stool courtesy of the Grumbleweeds, but for every element that is slightly more traditional, there’s a Strictly dance off or  a camera-in-the-audience skit that keeps things fresh. Being born of the same production as last year’s Palladium offering, it looks and sounds spectacular, too, with the musical numbers and more opulent moments rivalling anything you’ll see in arenas or on the West End.

Given its pedigree, one already comes to the Birmingham Hippodrome panto expecting a certain standard of excellence. In previous years, special 3D visual effects or American sitcom stars were the extra flourishes, the big selling points or talking points after the show. But as great as they all indeed were, this year’s Cinderella is far and away the most lavish, spectacular panto ball the Hippodrome have held yet. With a perfectly-pitched balance of funny and fabulousness for old and young alike, a stellar line-up of fantastic talent including the likes of Knight, Slack and Mac, and more glitz, glamour and opulence than you would find in even an entire wardrobe of Ceri Dupree gowns, Cinderella is the very definition of pantomime magic, and the must-have ticket in town (even Solihull!) this Christmas and New Year.

The Fairy Godmother of all pantomimes?

Oh, yes it is!

RATING - ★★★★★

Tickets: 0844 338 5000​  / Official Website: click​​